Nov
09
2008

Life changing events that shouldn’t be

The Freakonomics blog recently had a post about the dangers of n=1. It refers to a common problem of building beliefs or even habits on one event or one example. The primary example in the article reminded me of something that happened when I was in college.

I often had  to get up early in the morning, before my roommates were awake. I would get out of bed in the dark, wrap myself in a robe, grab my towel, and stumble down the hall to the shower. On one particular morning, I walked into the bathroom, turned on the water, and only then noticed a very large insect on the edge of my robe, just an inch or so from my skin. It was traumatizing, to say the least. And every morning after that, I would shake my robe before I put it on.

I think that N=1 becomes powerful when it involves consequences that we find especially terrible. I was willing to shake my robe every morning because the thought of an insect crawling on my skin was very disturbing. We are willing to take off our shoes and submit to searches in airports because the possibility of another 9-11 is unthinkable.

I wonder how many other habits and practices in our lives were started by one incident, or even by hearing about one incident? Perhaps we are not as rational as we like to think that we are!

Written by in: Shameless Academic |

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